Chantal's Reviews > The Trial

The Trial by Franz Kafka
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Sep 17, 10


Kafkaesque, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition) refers to “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre or illogical quality”. Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, is the ultimate Kafkaesque story; the original (written before his death in 1924); the story that gave coinage to the word. As for its contribution on the whole, this novel, for its nightmarish narrative and bizarre plot, is considered a forerunner in existential literature.
On the morning of his thirtieth birthday Joseph K. is arrested at his home for a crime he is unaware of and uninformed of. His arresting officers, comically stupid men, release him with the understanding that he is to appear for his trial. The story goes on to chronicle, in a complex, dreamlike, piecemeal fashion (Kafka never finished it, nor did he mean for it to be published – in fact he requested it be burned with various other unfinished works) K.’s experiences as he struggles to discover what it is he is charged of while attempting to defend himself and continue in his daily life as a man perceived guilty by the community he inhabits. The trial process is never adequately explained to K. nor the reader, the court session is farcical, and like K., we never come to know who truly holds authority, although it is evident that those in charge are exceedingly corrupt. The nightmarish quality to the story is amplified by its dream-like sequence, the mysterious figures that appear to be watching K. from windows, and scenes such as the lumber-room flogging:
…he heard groans coming from behind a door to what he had always thought was a lumber-room… Astonished he stopped and listened again to make sure he was not mistaken; for a while it was quiet, but then he heard the groans again. …he was gripped by such overwhelming curiosity that he just wrenched the door open… Inside, useless out-of-date printed documents and empty earthenware inkwells lay scattered about… ‘What’s going on here?’ demanded K…. One of the men, who was evidently in control of the other two, caught K.’s attention first; he was dressed in some sort of dark leather costume that left his neck open to his chest and his arms bare. He did not reply, but the other two cried: ‘Sir! We’re going to be flogged because you complained….’

The theme of The Trial is obviously authoritarian oppression, isolation, alienation and even guilt. The tone is alternately chilling and blackly amusing. (Kafka is said to have laughed heartily in the midst of reading it out loud.) The moral is more difficult to define; the story invites many questions but leaves them all unanswered, similar to a parable.
Kafka, it is said, was fond of writing parables and in the ninth chapter of The Trial, “In the Cathedral,” a priest who introduces himself as the prison chaplain recites for K. a parable, the preamble to the law, which both K. and the prison chaplain reflect upon and dissect to finally conclude that, like most, this particular parable is open to multitude of interpretations and will hold various meanings for various individuals. Similarly, Kafka’s elusive novel which has been read by millions has earned, or suffered, nearly as many interpretations. I offer you mine:
The Trial is a frightening and intriguing parody of the Czechoslovakian judicial system of which Kafka (a lawyer, as well as a writer and a banker) was intimately familiar. While in parts of the story K.’s trial teeters on absurd and crosses into the ridiculous it still closely resembles the nefariously infested state of the legal system in place during Kafka’s time. Secrecy was only one element of the system. Interrogations could be brutal. Bribery was commonplace. Injustices abounded. It was a time prefacing the reign of the Nazi party, the secret police, concentrations camps, hatred and persecution and while there is some dark humor to be found within The Trial, reading it in retrospect of the holocaust is shockingly sobering. More so, when it is discovered that Kafka’s own sisters died in the Jewish concentration camps.
So, it seems there is also a prophetical element to The Trial, another characteristic common to dreams.

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